When you open your eyes and look around you, your brain is presented with an amazing amount of information.
But in spite of all the complexity that we capture through our vision — or our other senses — what we see is just a tiny fraction of what’s really out there. This limit to our perception, though, is not a function of our brain, but our senses.
Your eyes, for example, pick up a small band of the electromagnetic spectrum. At the same time, countless radio waves and X-rays and microwaves and gamma rays pass through your body — and you are completely unaware of them.
“Our experience of reality,” said neuroscientist David Eagleman in a TED Talk, “is constrained by our biology.”
Eagleman hopes to change our perceptual limitations by creating new interfaces — such as a sensory vest — that take in information that is currently outside the reach of our senses.
He is confident this will work, because the brain is designed to process any type of information, not only things like images or sounds.
“Your brain is not hearing or seeing any of this,” said Eagleman. “Your brain is locked in a vault of silence and darkness inside your skull. All it ever sees are electrochemical signals that come in along different data cables, and this is all it has to work with, and nothing more.”
The brain is able to take these signals and find meaning within them. This is true whether the signals are coming through the retina or eardrum. Or even through a vest that vibrates your skin in response to information fed to it from a camera, microphone or the Internet.
In a way, all perception boils down to vibration. And it’s through this vibration that the brain is able to reach out of its dark cave into the vast universe around us.
Right now, most of that information comes to us through our eyes, ears and other senses. But soon we will be able to plug directly into the Internet or sense the universe across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.
“We actually have no idea what the theoretical limits are of what kind of data the brain can take in,” said Eagleman.
first published in March of 2015